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Super Family

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

I wake up before my alarm, an unwelcome event, and check my email. I have a message from a former medical student with the good news that she got one of her reflections published—a difficult story about bearing witness to a family as they said goodbye to their 22-year old son as he was pulled off life support. He’d shot himself in the head. I lie in bed and wonder how, several years later, that family is doing. There are many paths away from an event like that.

My revere is broken as my son Finn blusters into the bedroom. It’s our family’s turn to be “super family” for his class, and he’s amped. Several months ago, he wrote a short biography of our family—complete with illustrative photos—and today is the day we all go in to his classroom so he can present his project: us.

“Okay, I’m up,” I tell him and head downstairs for beloved coffee. We’re on an “anti-Alexa” movement and Cheri has Billie Holiday spinning on the turntable. Our new cat Tulip is ensconced in the little condo I built her, and our doggy Ellie is eying the cupboard in hopes of a dental treat. The kids scurry around preparing for the day, and I marvel at how large they’re getting—the potential adults in them starting to show. Despite the kids’ typical moments of bickering and the fact that I’m angry at my hair for looking stupid, it’s a warm scene. This impression is accented when Cheri wraps her arms around me. Good morning hugs are clutch.

Billie Holiday comes to a crackling end and Finn asks if he can pick out “a disc.” A second later, he hands me his selection: Dire Straits’ Communique. It’s a completely random choice—one he knows nothing about—and I’m caught off guard. That particular album carries large emotional significance for my late wife Danae and I’s relationship. The early years kind of stuff. I almost ask him to choose something else . . . but then I’d have to explain why. Plus, it occurs to me that, perhaps, it is a fitting album for “super family” day. And, as the music fills our home, I’m not hit with an emotional tsunami like I’d feared. Instead, I inwardly smile and thank Danae for showing up.

At the kids' school, Ellie trots into Finn’s classroom sporting the cute, pink bandana Cheri has adorned on her. She’s an instant hit. Finn’s teacher has us sit on a big couch in the front of the room while the gang of second and third-graders sprawl on a rug that doubles as a world map. He begins reading his presentation:

“I was born in Dubai. It was hot there. We moved to Reno. Arya was born here. Our mommy died. Now Cheri said yes to being our new mommy. My parents’ wedding was on a houseboat.”

I look over at Cheri who is holding Arya on her lap. We make eye contact and she smiles in a way that conveys compassion while also acknowledging the trauma the kids have gone through, a trauma for which she now lovingly helps carry the burden. Cheri strokes Arya’s hair and begins to laugh as Finn describes how Arya did a belly flop off the edge of the houseboat. I’m struck by how much I love this woman. And, in the back of my mind, the Dire Straits continue to play.

As Finn is finishing up his presentation and students are asking questions, I find myself watching a little boy whose dad suddenly died of Covid several weeks earlier. He appears to be engaged with the super family activity, and I wonder how he how is doing. What he understands. Believes. How his family is coping with the incomprehensible tragedy. There are many paths away from an event like that.

Twenty minutes later, we leave the kids at school and drive home to face the responsibilities of the adult world, many of which are pretty damn intense right now. Uncertainty seems to be a guest that just won’t leave. But a hilarious 70s funk tune comes on the stereo—the type that sounds like a porn flick backtrack—and Cheri and I laugh and begin plotting how we might take the kids abroad as soon as it’s safe to do so. In that moment, it occurs to me what a gift it is to have family that not only love each other, but genuinely like each other and share values. Don’t get me wrong; our home can be a total war zone at times, and we all deal with our own brands of dysfunction. But this does not change the fact that we are a super family.

Post Script: Thank you Mrs. Beddoe for this project. You rock.

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